Gamification for Behavior Change: What is it and How is it Useful?

18/11/2014 Taylor & Francis

In a world where the majority of children spend hours a day playing computer or console game, researchers are starting to utilize those habits for the better.  The use of gamification -- using game design elements to teach lessons, engage, and motivate -- is starting to increase in popularity. The article “Gamification for Behavior Change: Lessons from Developing a Social, Multiuser, Web-Tablet Based Prevention Game for Youths” illustrates how gamification concepts and principles were applied to the development of an online, multiuser, substance abuse, and relationship violence prevention game for youths. The article appears in Journal of Technology in Human Services, published by Routledge.

The authors discuss challenges encountered during the efforts to develop and test a prototype version of the game and then present concrete and practical strategies for addressing these challenges. The article provides guidance for other researchers and practitioners who may want to gamify human service processes and use gamification techniques within a behavior change framework.

Choices & Consequences (C&C) is a game aimed at middle school children ages 11 to 14 and is designed to teach substance abuse and relationship violence prevention to them. The article goes through the development and implementation of the game in an alternative middle school, creating teams, and using prize incentives for game play.

Two of the creators of the game explained, “The process of creating a behavior prevention game that focuses on substance abuse and relationship violence can be a real challenge in terms of design and content.  In part because behavior-change games have to be fun, yet be educational and contain research-based behavior change strategies.  Players must be allowed to take risks and make mistakes when facing substance abuse and relationship violence challenges, but good actions need to be explained and rewarded.  What actions are “good” are not always obvious in teens’ complex lives.  We struggled with this issue among ourselves, for example, is there such a thing as playful hitting in a relationship.  That is why it was crucial for us to also get feedback from the teens that partnered with on this project.  They were essential in making our scenarios realistic and relevant to their lives.  Thus, the article’s focused on challenges, choices, and consequences we had to make as we developed the prevention game Choices & Consequences.”

The researchers warn those who are interested in developing or using gamification that the process is not an easy one. There are many aspects and challenges that come with game development, not the least of which is funding. The high use of technology in this prevention method makes it difficult despite the advantages.

The allure of games, especially to youths, is self-efficacy. The ability to earn “money” or points through the game, though they are only pixels, provides children with a sense of accomplishment. “Youth are especially attracted to games and virtually all American youths play computer, console or cell phone games,” cited the researchers. Using this platform that the target audience is already using appeals to them on a level they are comfortable with.

“Based on our experience in developing and testing a prototype social, multiuser, web-tablet based prevention game for middle-school youths, we can conclude that gamification has many advantages. However, as outlined above, it comes with some challenges. Nonetheless, we believe that for our project, gamification fostered engagement, motivation, self-disclosure, co-learning, and detailed delivery of a curriculum. Most of our test students preferred the game delivery format to all other prevention formats they had experienced,” wrote the researchers.

Full bibliographic information

FREE ACCESS: Gamification for Behavior Change: Lessons from Developing a Social, Multiuser, Web-Tablet Based Prevention Game for Youths, Dick Schoech, Javier F. Boyas, Beverly M. Black, and Nada Elias-Lambert
(Volume 31, Issue 3, 2013, Pages 197-217)
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